On the highest floor of the Interior Department, in a cramped, musty office, a man sits at a drawing board. He spends some hours daydreaming through cigarette smoke and a large window. What he sees out over the low goemetry of federal architecture who can say? A raccoon scales the roof of the Corcoran, perhaps. Salmon float like zeppelins past the Capitol dome. Sometimes Bob Hines sees more than mirage. He has seen a peregrine falcon or two slicing past his window, and he will not forget the day 17 years ago when he looked out to see seven bald eagles whirling over the White House.

Hines, age 67, works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His title is "The National Wildlife Artist." His, in a certain sense, is the eye of a nation when it comes to wildlife. He illustrates books, charts, brochures, posters and scientific publications put out by the service for consumption by the American public.

Hines now returns to the drawing board to let his hand render what the mind's eye has already fixed upon. "I begin with a feeling, an idea. Then I draw a few lines and circles to create an impression. You can create power just by drawing lines." Hines always threads the idea with one strong line -- the spine. "Everything works off of that. The spine governs the whole body movement." Then he will proceed to "hang" a few lesser lines -- legs, wings, tails -- from the main one. The angle, the sharpness of those lines depends on what exactly the animal is doing.

In due time the artist will have three or four large sheets of paper crammed with two-inch high sketches of the same subject. "These are my shorthand notes. They won't mean much to someone else, but this is what I work from. Then I'll choose one of these according to the impression I'm trying to convey."

As Hines elaborates from pencil to oils he will occasionally stop and refix images in his mind. He will gaze back out the window. He will wander over to the mustier confines of the Smithsonian and stare at taxidermied creatures. tHe will consult his "morgue" of 50,000 photographs and illustrations that he began building in 1924.

The final result is art that is exact, faithful to fact and science. It is also art that delights the artist. "Everything is always new. That's what I like about this work. You sit down to draw an ordinary skunk, but each time it ends up a little different than the last because you're always looking at something a little differently. I love it."

In 1928 Hines came out of high school and went into a factory in his hometown of Fremont, Ohio. The plant stamped out an array of automobile parts from axles to turn-signal levers. He hung onto his job through the lean Depression years, but during that time his body began to tell him that the assembly line was not the place for him. He developed inflammation of the intestines. The cure did not include heavy labor, so he went home "to take it easy. I always liked to draw." Hines drew what he knew, and that was wildlife.

At the impressionable age of 10, Hines had begun collecting wild animals. "I had foxes, snakes, woodchucks, spiders. I had every owl native to Ohio. People brought me owls and eagles that had been crippled up. I'd heal them, keep them awhile and let them go."

Hines, a hunter also taught himself taxidermy. "I'd draw pictures of the carcasses after I had taken the insides out. That way I knew where the bones were and how the muscles moved." Over time, curiosity and patience, equally keen, combined to etch into the plate of Hines' mind images as exact as the live animals around him. "I have impressions," says Hines, groping a little for words precise enough to explain his talent. "I guess I have recall when it comes to the outdoors. It's a tool I use to make a living form."

He has been using this tool since 1939 when he sent off a "pile of drawings" to the Ohio Department of Conservation, and they answered back by offering him a job at $2,200 a year. Nine years after that he came to Washington to work for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bob Hines also uses the tool with a quiet sense of urgency. He remembers flocks of pheasant, numbering three and four hundred, exploding out of the fields of his Ohio youth. He remembers traveling the Atlantic Coast when "you didn't have to go through a marina to get there." He continues: "A lot of people look at things and don't see what is there. They simply haven't been trained to." Hines wants to be their eyes, tell them there is something magical about seeing an animal free and wild, something worth saving. In this pursuit he has traveled to 49 American states, Canada, and Mexico. He has been to Alaska four times.

When Hines arrived in Washington to join the Fish and Wildlife Service, a biologist occupied the office that adjoined his; the door between "was always open." Hines acclaims his wife and this colleague as "the two great women in my life." The biologist's name was Rachel Carson.

"She could take a scientific fact and make you understand it," he says. "She was a complete researcher. When she got into things she got deeply into it." Hines illustrated one of her books, The Edge of the Sea (1955), an account of the life-forms that proliferate in the tidal zone along the Atlantic Coast. The project spanned five years and took Hines and Carson from Maine to Florida.

"We shared what we knew." Through him she sharpened her observer's eye. From her he received "what amounted to a course in marine biology." Some years later Hines found himself driving Carson to her home in Maine. She had cancer and was too weak to make the trip alone. On the way up she told him in great detail about the book she was writing and the urgency she felt about getting it done. On Hines' bulletin board there is a photograph he took of Carson at the end of that journey: A serene, handsome woman stands in the Maine woods -- aware perhaps that the book would get done. "Last time I saw her," says Hines, nodding at the picture. Silent Spring was published in the autumn 1962; its author died in spring 1964.